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Russia Reform Monitor - No. 2159

How Russia exploits the North Korean crisis;
A helping hand for Hamas

Edited by Amanda Azinheira, Evelyn Johns and Jack Verser
October 10, 2017

September 9:

The Meduza news portal notes that video footage of a top Moscow official engaged in bribery has come to light. In the video, Svetlana Antonova, a functionary in Moscow's Novo-Peredelkino District, is seen meeting with representatives of her district's voting precincts and passing them envelopes referred to as "compensation" and "advance benefits." The video later shows Antonova and the same representatives discussing how to keep a record of "our supporters" and not to begin counting ballots until after receiving word from her office. At one point in the footage, a representative is seen asking how to include ballots already cast in support of the pro-government candidates in the final vote count.

The graft, however, has met with a quick response. Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin fired Antonova and her supervisor just hours after the footage was released, and replaced every voting precinct chairperson in the area, saying on twitter that "we're trying to carry out elections that are as honest as possible, but it appears not everybody likes this." Sobyanin said the actions of the election officials is now a matter for state prosecutors.

September 11:

U.S. officials report that Russian smugglers are continuing to aid North Korea with shipments of fuel and other supplies that circumvent new UN sanctions.
The Washington Post report that, with the harsher restrictions on North Korean trade (including a 30 percent reduction in fuel imports), Russian "entrepreneurs" are set to make quick profit now that China, by far the DPRK's largest trading partner, has temporarily cut off gas and diesel exports in the hope of finally bringing the Kim regime to the bargaining table. The Russian aid, evidenced by increased tanker traffic from Vladivostok to North Korean ports, could derail attempts at further isolating and strangling Pyongyang. Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow with the DC-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, states that "the Chinese may be fed up with North Korea and willing to do more to increase the pressure. But it's not clear that the Russians are willing to go along with that."

September 12:

The BBC reports that tens of thousands of coordinated "bots" on Twitter have been pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda on the social media site. Western intelligence organizations claim that the "bots" - automated computer attacks controlled by a consolidated user or users - spread fake news, disinformation, and other erroneous content before the 2016 U.S. presidential election and before the 2017 French election to sway the respective electorates. The Russian government, for its part, has claimed innocence, stating that these activities were simply the work of patriotic Russians. So far, efforts by Twitter to mitigate the effects of these bots have led to over 70,000 accounts being deactivated. However, experts suspect that millions more remain operational on the network.

According to The Moscow Times, twelve Russian cities across the country have evacuated schools and malls in response to multiple anonymous bomb threats. Government buildings in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, as well as bus stations in larger Russian cities, were also evacuated. The source of the threats was not immediately known, but at least some Russians suspect foreign interference. A law enforcement official from Chelyabinsk is quoted as saying that "[t]here's reason to assume this was all organized abroad."

September 14:

Turkey's Anadolu Agency reports that a delegation from the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas will visit Moscow on October 5th to discuss the siege of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, and the ongoing situation in the Palestinian Territories. The news is confirmation that the radical movement is increasingly relying on Russia as a source of political support. "[E]verything Russia can offer through its position as a major country will be addressed during the visit," a spokesman for the group has said.

Some circles in Russia are in an uproar about "Matilda," a controversial film directed by Aleksei Uchitel.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports that the film - which depicts Tsar Nicholas II, who has been canonized in the Russian Orthodox Church, and his affair with Russian ballerina Matilda Kshesinskaya - has drawn criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church in addition to violent responses from the new ultraconservative extremist organization known as Christian State-Holy Rus. Russia's major theater chain has refused to show the film as a result of safety concerns, and Molotov cocktails were thrown at Uchitel's office and that of his lawyer.